13 February 2024

By Hannah Wilcox

North Sydney Council is looking to crack down on severe tree vandalism following a spike in illegal removal methods across the Lower North Shore last year. 

In 2023, various occurrences of trees being poisoned or cut down across the LGA, as well as the neighbouring council areas of Willoughby and Lane Cove, led to calls for stricter environmental laws and regulation. 

Multiple incidents, including that in Mosman which saw the ‘topping’ of Banksia trees on the beachfront at Rosherville Reserve, seemed aimed at enhancing the views of private residences. 

In July last year, a case of serious tree vandalism was reported at Forsyth Park in Neutral Bay with the last rainforest Acacia maidenii (Maiden’s Wattle) growing in the park illegally cut down.

The felling of the 25 metre tall tree also destroyed surrounding recently regenerated bushland, crushing establishing native plants and setting site progress back by at least ten years. 

Without the canopy, the increased light levels saw further weed intrusion and disrupted plans for the removal of nearby exotic species. 

Willowie Road in Castle Cove – overlooking Middle Harbour – saw 265 trees poisoned and 3,600 square metres of bushland poisoned and cleared in August.

In a major blow to bushland care efforts, 300 trees and endangered ecological communities were illegally destroyed in November in Woodford Bay, Longueville – which sits along the Lane Cove River.

The three Councils have since decided to collectively lobby against tree vandals after correspondence between Mayor Zoe Baker and Lane Cove Council.

Cnr Baker wrote in Monday’s mayoral minutes that North Sydney Council has led the way in its decades-long commitment to protecting, measuring and increasing tree canopy and habitat – even as far as saying it pioneered environmental legislation in the early 1970s coinciding with the establishment of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

The act introduced environmental offences and fines for unauthorised tree removal which currently holds substantial fines (up to $1.1M) and a possible criminal conviction.

“Protection of trees is just good policy. It recognises the environmental, health, social, and economic benefits of a vigorous, extensive urban tree canopy,” she wrote.

“And yet… trees continue to be destroyed to gain views.”

“On average, there are four or five tree vandalism incidents per year in our Local Government Area, of low to medium-high severities, including on private property. Over the last 10 years, there have been at least 15 reported instances of tree vandalism in public spaces,” Mayor Baker added.

“Council’s investigations have found that the primary reason this happens is for views, particularly when properties change hands.”

She acknowledged the difficulty in identifying tree vandals, and called for North Sydney Council to increase its conservation efforts in bushland and tree regeneration as well as work with neighbouring councils and other governmental bodies to undertake an urgent review of the tree protection regime.

This would include increasing fines, the role of NSW Police in investigation and prosecution of large scale environmental vandalism, and an education campaign on the value of urban tree canopy to communities.